Outrage (documentary)

Hypocrites beware: Kirby Dick will have none of your shenanigans. His Oscar-nominated “Twist of Faith” dealt with sex-abuse cover-ups within the Catholic Church, and “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” let the irrational and inconsistent MPAA ratings board have it with both barrels. Now, in the engrossing, revelatory new “Outrage,” the message is clear. If you’re a politician who publicly oppresses the gay community while secretly belonging to it, Kirby Dick will kick your closet door down and tell the world what a hypocrite you are.

The incendiary but thoughtful filmmaker presumably has no beef with politicians who put up a straight facade while secretly gayin’ it up when their voting record doesn’t suggest anti-gay sentiments. It’s only when they spend their days voting against gay marriage and domestic-partnership benefits and filling their speeches with anti-gay rhetoric that Dick believes their private deeds ought to be made public. “Outrage” is based on the premise — which Dick assumes we agree with before he begins — that such votes are tantamount to homophobia, and that voters therefore deserve to know what their elected homophobes are up to after hours.

And that is “Outrage”: a series of U.S. politicians with anti-gay voting records are dragged out of the closet. Dick avoids sensationalism, even though the material is inherently steamy, and even though his last name is Dick, for crying out loud. If my last name were Dick and I were making this movie, there’s no way I’d be able to keep it classy.

A prime example of the hypocrisy Dick is talking about is Idaho’s Larry Craig, arrested in 2007 for soliciting sex in an airport bathroom. He insisted it was a misunderstanding, and continues to insist that he’s not gay. He and his wife appeared on television laughing about the absurdity of the idea. Yet here’s news footage from 1982, when there was a scandal over elected officials cavorting with young male congressional pages, and Craig was one of the politicians implicated. That’s two gay scandals for Craig over the course of 25 years. Several men who have had sex with him have come forward to say so. And yet he not only insists he isn’t gay, or even bisexual, but continually votes against laws that would benefit people who are.

In Florida, where it’s against the law for gays to adopt children, the current governor is Charlie Crist. He agrees with that law and actively supported a constitutional ban on gay marriage. But Crist himself? Gay as a French horn. When the heat is on, he’ll get himself a beautiful girlfriend. Last year, when he wanted John McCain to make him his running mate, he went so far as to get engaged. His previous girlfriend is on camera talking about how the gay rumors don’t bother her. But now that they’ve broken up, she all but confirms to Dick that the rumors are true.

The film addresses a few other outrageous examples of this hypocrisy, including Ken Mehlman, manager of George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, who helped the president make opposition to gay marriage a major plank in his platform despite being secretly gay himself. When Bill Maher outed Mehlman while talking to Larry King on CNN, the news channel deleted that part when it rebroadcast the interview and removed it from online transcripts. In general, Dick says, the mainstream media is complicit in helping the hypocrites keep their secrets. Dick uses the loaded word “conspiracy,” which overstates the case. (For it to be a “conspiracy,” CNN, Fox, and the others would need to have discussed it and agreed on a policy, which obviously didn’t happen.) But it is true that even though the media loves other kinds of juicy scandals, for some reason it tends to ignore this sort of thing. When Larry Craig said he wasn’t gay, everyone just kind of dropped it, despite all the evidence that he was lying.

No doubt the rationale for not pursuing that line of inquiry is that it doesn’t matter whether or not the news media can prove Larry Craig’s, or anyone else’s, sexuality. The filmmaker’s whole point is that since Craig keeps voting against gays, it IS relevant to know that he’s lying about this. Dick also suggests a connection between anti-gay rhetoric in political speeches and a rise in violence against gays, which makes Craig-like hypocrisy actually deadly. His evidence here, though, is tenuous and anecdotal. I’m not saying there isn’t a correlation, only that Dick doesn’t make a strong case for it in the film.

Much of the information in “Outrage” was already available if you knew where to look (the non-mainstream press, primarily), and Dick has merely done us the favor of compiling and corroborating it. There is plenty of original research too, though, as Dick consults openly gay politicians and journalists for their insights and tracks down insiders who have the goods on the hypocrites. The filmmaker keeps himself out of the picture (title cards are used instead of narration) and sticks primarily to the facts — that is, to the testimony he finds credible. He uses irrefutable evidence when it’s available; mostly, though, he must rely on eyewitnesses whose stories stand up to scrutiny. Word has it there are more politicians who weren’t featured in this documentary only because Dick couldn’t nail down enough rock-solid evidence on them. That gives us something to look forward to in the sequel.

B+ (1 hr., 30 min.; Not Rated, probably R for scattered harsh profanity and some strong sexual dialogue.)